Thursday, April 10, 2008

I'm Trying Not to Take this personally but . . .

Three years ago, this month, I was diagnosed with Stage 1A melanoma (In layman's term, aggressive skin cancer caught in it's earliest stage.) At first, we didn't know it was stage 1A and for about a week, I lived with the stress of not knowing what my future was going to be. I am not talking about future in the "quality of life" type of future but "if I even was going to be alive in the future" sense.

Fortunately, my skin cancer was caught early and all that was required was a 2nd preventative surgery and many follow up visits. (My dermatologist knows my body almost as well as my husband.) My 5 year survival prognosis (including dying of anything--car crash, some other cancer, major heart attack due to my excessive love of fast food) is a very high 95-97%. I am lucky, blessed and grateful.

Now that it is sunny weather again, a lot people are looking forward to lazy days by the pool, water skiing, outdoor tennis, going to the beach or any of the other many wonderful outside activities available. I too think of those things but with the perspective of how can I enjoy those activities while still hiding from the the sun?"

So the other day I am outside with a few good friends of mine who are standing in the sun, pulling up their shirt sleeves, trying to get the most sun exposure possible. They are talking about how excited they are for sunny days and how much they are looking forward to laying out in the sun and trying to get great tans all summer. The phrase, "Work on my tan" was said probably about 20 times.

Let me remind everyone, I don't get offended. Anyone who knows me, knows that I think life is way too short to be offended by casual actions and statements that people make. However, this situation struck me as a little insensitive and not in the least casual. Most of these woman are people who lived my skin cancer hell with me. Many saw the fear I had when I got diagnosed and my worry that I might not be alive to raise my little ones. Several more of these friends, saw the panic I was in when, 8 months pregnant with my last child the doctors (yes, I have doctorS--plural who look at my skin) found a mole that looked suspicious and they wanted it removed immediately. These friends got the phone calls from me elated when I was told it was benign and not cancerous. (For the record, I wasn't being careless about having another child. I spoke to MANY specialists if I should have another child and they all concluded I could and should.)

These same friends saw my tears when my sister was diagnosed with melanoma and her prognosis was not good. They listened and heard me describe her HELLACIOUS chemo regimen and how horrendous the side effects were. Recently, they heard me talk about the miracle it is she is alive and daily I consider it a blessing to be able to talk to her on the phone. They saw my many tears as I discussed how awful skin cancer can be and now needless it is, when we know that limiting sun exposure is the number one way to prevent getting it.

So, pardon me if I walk away from you as you talk about your sun "needs" and your desire for a perfect tan this summer. Forgive me as I wipe away tears, listening to you talk about how you feel so ugly and pasty white and you "have" to get some sun to feel good about yourself. Maybe I was too stoic about my experience. Maybe I didn't express loudly enough my fear and panic about it. Maybe I haven't been vocal enough about my sleepless nights before every skin appointment. But, I'm 100% sure I was plenty clear. My feelings are a little hurt that you think that little of me to not see how one mole removal changed my life forever and how it could change yours forever too. At least around me, don't talk about your "need" for a dark beautiful tan and how you to have to look good in your swimsuit this summer and your worry about having tan lines. Life is too short and vanity is not that important. Trust me.


Queen Elizabeth said...

Good for you!!!! Important information to know - and I hope those around you are a bit more sensitive (?!?!? That one baffles me a bit... have they forgotten?)

pale paige said...

Good for you. I'm surprised you didn't pipe up right then and comment on their need for tans. That was a bit on the forgetful and insensitive side, but don't let it get to you.

I personally would love to be long, lean and tan. But since I don't have the long and lean part down, the tan won't do my that much good, either. Thank goodness for the immitation tans and self tanners and such so that those of us with no natural pigment to our skins (and the most risk for skin cancer) can still look a little less pasty.

michelle said...

That is what tan in a can is for! It really has come a long way in my opinion and let's face it, my legs are never going to get there on their own so why risk my health for it!

love.boxes said...

I think pale skin like you have and also my little c has is so lovely (like Nicole Kidman .. who I happen to think is the most gorgeous movie star ever!) The sun thing is hard for me. I don't lay out .. EVER. I don't care about getting a tan and I don't want to look old before my time.

Jane Anne said...

As you know Janice, we have similar health issues so I get where you're coming from.

While not meaning to be, some conversation can be insensitive and just plain thoughtless.
I think it's all about what are our own triggers - things we have gone through that have been extremely painful. Unless you have felt those emotions it's hard to understand how deep and painful some lighthearted conversation can be. I've found some of those topics also include - serious health issues (like you've mentioned) dealth, money, wayward children, and difficult marriages.

Hopefully we can all be reminded to be aware of some of the things we say to others....

I hope your sister is doing OK